Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Holodecks For Aged Care Facilities?

It is the little things, the things that don't matter, that are really the big things, and the things that matter.  

This is doubly true if you are unable to live in your own home any longer, and are dependent on supported care of some sort.  

Old Woman Feeding Birds
(Image by soylentgreen23 

While often necessary, such care risks removing all the things that really matter in life. I still remember when my own grandmother was old and frail, and had to move into supported care.  For 83 years she was used to a life outdoors, with the fresh air and sunshine.  What she wanted most was to be able to open a window and let the sunshine in, or potter outside in the garden, or smuggle more cheese cubes to the stray cats that used to visit the nursing home.

But she basically had to live in a very comfortable hotel room, but which she found very oppressive given her life experience.  Apart from being part of the underground railroad for the feline dairy supply, I still remember that the last "good day" that she had was when we busted her out for a day and took her blackberry picking in the hills, something that was a regular part of her independent life. It wasn't "medically sensible" and it wasn't "necessary", but gee whiz, it really mattered to her, and that's what matters.

Since then I have been thinking on and off about how to break down the feeling of being trapped and encased in an institution, so that we can rehumanise and reconnect older people's lives with the world around them.

I have been talking with some people in health care about making some sort of holodeck for residential care facilities to help improve their resident's quality of life.  

It seems that the technology is there to make something fairly affordable, that would allow some interactivity, and sufficient suspension of disbelief that it might be worth exploring.

The initial model I am thinking of is one of having some cameras at a nice location, most likely a sea-side spot somewhere.  These record video and audio in several directions so that a view of the scene can be projected into a "holodeck" that provides an immersive sense of being there.  We might even use fans to generate wind with matched speed and direction as is actually occurring at the location. I am sure the Eurovision Clearance Store must have plenty.

Rather than a loop that fails to suspend disbelief, having a real live feed makes the experience much richer, and also allows for more interesting interactivity.  

First, we can pipe video and sound both directions, so that someone approaching the camera site would see an old person in a room listening to the waves, who might notice them as they approach, and then they could have a chat if they wished.  

Second, the natural cadence of the scene with less interesting bits and more interesting bits adds the variety that makes life worthwhile.  Showing once-in-a-century shots like blue whales swallowing sharks, and the same amazing purple sunset are counterproductive, because they are overstimulating.  It is the subtleness and realness that matter, and that make the connection believable.

A fun interactivity booster would be to add a seagull food launching device, that fired (nutritionally balanced) seagull food whenever the person threw a (possibly synthetic) chip at the wall, so that they could experience the interactive pleasure of feeding seagulls and watching them wheel and crane overhead, and catch the specially
formulated seagull food mid-flight, and generally enjoy a sense of escape from their institution.

Finding a way to synthesise sea-side smell would also add tremendously, because smell is such an evoker of memories.  Indeed, the smell centre of our brains is the most directly wired sense, and can cause such strong and immediate reactions.

Obviously these holodecks could be setup in all sorts of places, and with a variety of location appropriate interactivity diverse, e.g., feeding ducks by a pond, or a sitting on a "digital park bench" to feed pigeons and talk to people who sit next to them in the real world.  They could be moved around, as well.

Ultimately, they may provide a key part of the quality of life of people in residential care, as well as to help stop them being a population who are hidden inside institutional walls, invisible to a society who would otherwise be willing to say hello, and help them maintain some connection with outside society.

It seems to me that a prototype of this could be created fairly easily and without excessive cost, and that there are probably all the skills in a typical geek/maker community necessary to make it happen.  

I don't have funds for the project now, or the time to do it all myself, but if we made a prototype, I think we might be in a good position to secure funds, whether from governments, arts councils or various other sources to make more and/or better ones to help more people.

Anyone interested in seeing how much fun and how rewarding this could be, or know anyone who might be?


  1. This is a FANTASTIC idea!!!
    I work with the elderly in their own homes so that they don't have to go to supported care. I don't have any experience in recording etc but if you have anyone here in Melbourne that needs help with recording please let me know. my email is katarinaachkar@yahoo.com

  2. I never would have thought about this. That's awesome! My grandma felt bored just watching television all the time. Having that variety is what makes life worth living.

    Anita Mas | http://www.evergreenlife care.org.au

  3. My brother is going to be getting elderly care for our aunt pretty soon here. He'd be interested to read this. Heck, I'm pretty sure my aunt was a fan of Star Trek, and I bet she'd like this, too. Thiago | http://www.evergreenlifecare.org.au